Childhood obesity is a growing health risk many children face in this country, and a new mentoring program at Companions for Children aims to tackle that issue by giving kids the information they need to get healthy and have a good time doing it.
Billy Seright, executive director of Companions for Children in Minot, said the new Wellness Companion Mentoring Program targets two needs in the community.
“One, it could allow us to match more of the kids that want mentors, albeit it for a shorter time period and in a limited scope. It would still allow us to expose these kids to some form of mentoring, where at this point they’re not,” Seright said. “We’ve got 40 kids that want mentors that don’t have them, and so this would allow us to at least expose them to some form of mentoring, a limited form. So more kids could be served, basically.
“The second one was again to address the problem of childhood obesity. Yes we’re focusing on a certain population because that’s the population we serve, but possibly other groups could replicate the service that we do for other groups of children and even work with us to provide this sort of service to other groups of kids outside of single-parent homes.”
With a master’s degree in health education, physical education and recreation from the University of South Dakota, Seright is the ideal person to spearhead the new program. He said the idea for wellness mentoring came forth while they were trying to think of ways to meet the needs of the children they serve, many of whom are still waiting to be matched with a mentor.
After some investigation, Seright found there are several types of wellness programs for children and the federal government even gives out awards for participating in some of them for a period of time.
“We’re not linked to that, but the fact is that some things in this arena or like this were going on out there,” Seright said. “Whenever you see that, that lets you know that there is some common practice going on and this isn’t just some wild hair that is not backed up by any evidence.”
The wellness mentoring program not only gives children a second way to get a mentor, it offers adults a second way to be a mentor. If a potential adult companion isn’t sure about committing to a full year in the traditional mentoring program, they can try the shorter 8-week wellness mentoring program. While the wellness program is different in scope and length, it still has some similarities to the traditional program.
“You still go through screening and then the match is focused on helping the child who you’re matched with to become more physically active and to increase their knowledge of proper nutrition and to use that knowledge of proper nutrition in their daily lives,” Seright said. “So that’s the main goal. You’re trying to get them to be more active and to eat better.”
Seright said other wellness programs he looked at ran from six to eight weeks, which is how he settled on the eight-week time frame for this program. He hopes this shorter length of commitment will spur people from Minot Air Force Base and Minot State University to give Companions for Children a second look. Those two groups of people in particular are often transient in nature and can’t commit to an entire year because they can’t be sure they’ll be around that long.
The frequency the adult companion meets with the child is also tweaked slightly for the wellness program. In the traditional program meetings are held three to four times a month, with meetings possible occurring twice one week and not at all the next. The wellness program has a stricter meeting schedule of once every week in order to keep the child on track with the plan.
Another difference between the programs are the ages. The traditional program accepts children from 6 to 15 years old, while the wellness program limits the ages to 9 through 15. This is because children younger than 9 often have more difficulty grasping the concepts of good nutrition and physical fitness.
“And ultimately we’re hoping that the wellness mentoring program serves as a feeder program to the adult companion (program)” Seright said. “Because if you introduce an individual to the child’s life in this limited scope, hopefully they ... build a relationship in that short time frame, enough of one where they want to continue then maybe with the more traditional adult companion one, and get more involved in the child’s life and continue to hang out with them.”
Once mentors pass the screening process, they go through some basic training to teach them about physical and nutritional education for children. Although a background in nutrition or physical education is helpful, it is by no means required. Mentors receive all the training necessary to help a child develop a basic fitness and nutrition plan.
When a match with a child has been made, they meet and come up with an eight-week plan for the child to follow. To keep the child interested in the physical activity portion of the plan, it will be based on something the child likes to do.
“So if the child likes to shoot baskets, then the mentor will sit down and help them plan out how to make that part of their lives more frequently and more regularly,” Seright said. “And then also they’ll share with them concepts of proper nutrition and maybe give them ideas of how to make that part of their lives.”
The mentor will meet with the child once a week to see how things are going with the plan. Based on the child’s feedback, the mentor can then help make adjustments if needed and give suggestions on how to make the plan work a little better.
“As they go along by the end of eight weeks they should have a pretty fine-tuned system,” Seright said.
The mentor will also be encouraged to join the child during the physical activity or even take them to the grocery store to physically show them examples of foods that would fit their nutritional plan. Being able to do those activities together with an adult companion not only helps the child develop a better understanding of nutrition and physical well-being, it also helps fill a need for companionship that is probably missing from that child’s life.
“Our goal ultimately is to make sure that all the kids that want one in the Minot area can have a mentor, that’s our overarching goal. And so that’s part of the reason why we wanted to start this program, because it helps to reach that goal,” Seright said. “And the reason that that’s our goal is because we know that mentoring works, we know that mentoring has a positive influence on children’s lives.”
The Associated Press